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Intelligent school: A trial in Japan toward 21st century learning environment technology

Kazuhiko Nakayama
University of Tsukuba, Japan

Issues and policies of the Japanese Government toward education in the 21st century

Educational reform toward the 21st century

In Japan, we have nine years of compulsory education (six years of primary and three years lower secondary school). Great progress in education was mainly due to the characteristics of the Japanese people, who put emphasis on education, and by improved living standards due to the post war high growth of the Japanese economy. This dramatic spread and development has served as a driving force for the economic, social and cultural development of the nation.

The rapid social changes and the quantitative expansion of education in recent years have greatly affected the state of affairs in education. They have exposed a variety of social problems. Among them are (1) a social climate in which too much value is placed on the educational background of individuals, namely, the names of colleges or universities they graduated from or the levels of formal education they received, (2) the excessive competition in entrance examinations; (3) the problematic behaviour of young people, and (4) the uniform and inflexible structure and methods of formal education. On the other hand, there has developed a strong call for making the educational system more adaptable to such social and cultural changes as: changes in industrial and employment structures; the progress of an information intensive society; and internationalisation in various sectors.

Needless to say, one of the basic missions of education lies in delivering the cultural assets created by ancestors to the next generation, and raising the young generation to become responsible citizens. We should constantly strive to reform the educational system' with a vision of what our society should become. In a little less than ten years, we will arrive in the 21st century. If we are to cope with rapid changes in our society, it is an urgent task for us to make a drastic review of the state of affairs in education and in related sectors and thus to implement necessary reforms regarding various policies and measures.

To meet this need, on 21 August 1984 a National Council on Educational Reform was set up as an ad hoc advisory committee to the Prime Minister. To help our nation create a society full of creativity and vitality for the 21 st century, the Council energetically engaged in deliberations on education and on related fields, in a broad perspective, keeping in mind the various issues and problems involved in present education. In its deliberations, the Council always kept in mind the necessity of securing an educational system which can cope with the changes of the times. The Council submitted four successive reports to the Prime Minister before the termination of its tenure on 20 August 1987.

These reports give the basic principles for educational reform in Japan with a view toward the 21st century: (1) to activate the shift of emphasis on formal education (school oriented education) to lifelong study; (2) to promote education that recognises individuality; and (3) to bring about education adaptable to the changing times in this information oriented and internationalised society. On 6 October 1987 the Cabinet set forth a paper entitled Immediate Policies for the Implementation of Educational Reform - Policy Guidelines for the Implementation of Educational Reform. In this policy statement, the Government set out its strategies for implementing the Council's recommendations with regard to urgent important policy issues. The strategies were categorised into seven items including the development of a lifelong study system and the reform of elementary and secondary education. Thus the Government made clear to the public the basic direction of government policies dealing with educational reform.

Issues and policies on lifelong study

As mentioned in the preceding chapter, the National Council on Educational Reform recommended the transition to a lifelong study system and stressed the importance of lifelong study. Behind the Council's recommendation are the following observations[1].
First, while formal education has quantitatively expanded and spread during the course of Japan's modernisation, people's excessive dependence on formal education and their undue emphasis on the educational backgrounds of individuals have had adverse effects. There have been growing demands for an overall re-examination of the whole education system, for the elimination of the idea of putting too much emphasis on formal education, and for the creation of a lifelong study system, whereby people may continue to enlighten themselves throughout life, and whereby the results of their efforts for self enlightenment will be duly evaluated.

Second, in a 'maturing society' where the level of income is improving, leisure hours are increasing, the level of people's educational attainment is improving, and the population is aging, the aspiration of people to learn at different life stages and in different sectors tends to increase and people's demand for learning and self study tends to become more sophisticated and diversified.

Third, along with the progress of science and technology, the change in the industrial structure, the spread of information media, and the progress of 'internationalisation', people's demands are growing for learning and acquiring incessantly changing knowledge and skills. For this reason, it is now impossible to meet all of the learning and self study needs of people by means of formal education. People are required to continue learning and self study about vocational and family life after finishing formal education.

In order to meet these demands, education should not be limited to formal education offered to young people only. People must be enabled to choose their own learning and self study freely and on their own responsibility, and to continue learning and self study throughout life. From the five policies recommended in Outline of Education in Japan 1989, two are quoted here.
The third policy is for utilising institutions of formal education as lifelong study facilities. Institutions of formal education are required not only to provide children with a sound basis for lifelong study but also to provide people with a variety of learning and self study opportunities in accordance with their differing learning and self study needs. Various ways of providing lifelong study opportunities for people include the opening of school facilities to the community and the acceptance of working adults as regular students at universities or other institution.

The fifth policy concerns the transformation of facilities for education, research, culture and sports into more 'intelligent' facilities for lifelong study. Today there is a call for educational and cultural facilities which provide people with suitable learning and self study opportunities throughout life so as to meet the diversified and heightened learning and self study needs of people. It is necessary to change a larger number of these facilities into more 'intelligent' facilities, with the aim of ensuring an overall improvement of educational and cultural facilities for the 21st century.

To develop 'intelligent' facilities means to improve facilities for education, research culture and sports equipping them with advanced information and communications media, as well as with comfortable spaces for learning and self study, and to organise functions of these facilities most effectively so that they may serve as focal points for lifelong study. More specific objectives of developing 'intelligent' buildings are (1) to make educational and cultural facilities 'high quality' ones, and (2) to ensure more effective use of these facilities.

The development of 'high quality' educational and cultural facilities may mean the introduction of information and telecommunication processing functions, the provision of pleasant and enriched physical facilities and environments, the introduction of an appropriate system for equipment management etc. Effective use of educational and cultural facilities may include the opening of the facility to the community, the joint use of well equipped facilities to the development of compound facilities for education and culture.

In the future, it will be necessary to conduct studies on specific approaches for making facilities more 'intelligent' and to develop model geographical zones for 'intelligent' buildings.

Coping with the Information Age

Outline of Education in Japan 1989, published by the Ministry of Education and Culture, describes the current state of the information age and the Ministry's policies as follows.

In order to cope with the spread of information media, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has been developing various policies based on the recommendations of the National Council on Educational Reform. In these policies, the following objectives are emphasised:

The first objective is to help people acquire information literacy, in other words, the ability to select needed information from among the myriad information available and make use of it efficiently. To this end, the Ministry will help enrich teaching about information at each school level. In addition, it will expand non formal education programs for the development of information literacy.

The second objective is to utilise new information media in educational activities. To this end, the Ministry will conduct research and development work on high quality educational software and on computers suited to educational purposes. It will also promote the development of new learning and self study systems using new information media.

The third objective is to train progressively those who will assume leading responsibilities in an information intensive world.

The fourth objective is to encourage educational and cultural facilities to become more information oriented. To this end, the Ministry will conduct studies on the idea of making educational facilities more 'intelligent' as recommended by the National Council on Educational Reform. It will furnish educational and cultural facilities and institutions with information equipment.

Intelligent schools in Namerikawa City

Start of Namerikawa 'Intelligent School'

The City of Namerikawa is a small local city in Toyama Prefecture with a population of 47,000. It is located about 400 kilometres north west of Tokyo, on the Japan Sea coast of Honsyu. While 20% of the workers are fisherman, 50% are farmers or combined business/ industrial workers. For this reason most of the labour population is classified as business/ industrial workers. Also, because its neighbouring city. Toyama, is the prefectural capital, it is expected that Namerikawa will be developed as a residential area. Since Mr Toshiro Sawada, Mayor of the city, was elected to the post in 1986, the City has placed most importance on education and carried out various policies like the development of in service teacher training, establishment of an education centre, development and upgrading of school facilities and equipment. The city is among the earliest to introduce computers in primary schools. CAI classes are conducted using teacher created software, with support from my project team at the University of Tsukuba.

When the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture publicised its idea of a new education system, the City immediately applied and was selected as one of the two designated research localities selected to study and evaluate the 'intelligent school' idea in May 1987. The other is Taito-ku Tokyo, an urban community, while Namerikawa is rural.

In order to materialise the 'intelligent school', the City of Namerikawa organised the Education Reform Promotion Committee, which conducted a two year study. The Final Report of the Study was turned in to the Ministry in March, 1989. Based on the report, the City decided to turn Namerikawa Lower Secondary School, whose buildings were to be reconstructed, into an 'intelligent school', and incorporate a Lifelong Study Center as a part of this 'intelligent school'. Two standing committees were organised. One was for drafting basic plans for the buildings (Chairperson. Prof. Hirokuni Taniguchi, Tokyo Institute of Technology). The other was for overall planning of systems including computer networking, administration of the school, and lifelong study centre (Chairperson: Prof. Kazuhiko Nakayama, University of Tsukuba).

The completion of buildings

Namerikawa Lower Secondary School (742 students and 21 classes) construction was started in 1989 and was completed in October, 1993. It is a three story school building, with a two storey section housing the lifelong study centre, library, and special subject rooms such as music, fine arts, home making, industrial work shops, science laboratories, etc. These special subject rooms are available to students and those utilising the lifelong study centre alike. Facilities at the lifelong study centre are also available to students. The total size is 8,832 square meters. The lifelong study centre 516 square meters. The construction cost was Y2,028,000,000 (about US$19,400,000). The gymnasium and traditional Japanese martial arts building are still under construction and scheduled to be completed at end of November, 1994. The cost of construction is estimated to be Y850,000,000 (about US$9,000,000).

The guiding principle for planning construction is "to create a spacious environment to provide a stage for creative activities." Both the exterior and interior of the building are designed to be modern and user friendly. Regular classroom size is larger than traditional size, giving 79 square meters of floor space. Student desks are also larger by ten centimetres in width and by five centimetres in depth. A multipurpose open space, club room, and lounges are include in the plan to give more space.

The most unique feature of Namerikawa Lower Secondary School as the first 'intelligent school' in Japan is that the school facilities were made by incorporating a lifelong study centre into the school system as a whole, not drawing a line between the two. A digital communication network is installed in the building and computers are installed in classrooms. The lifelong study centre can be freely connected to the network to conduct and promote new type of education to meet the needs of a highly information intensive society.

On the staff side, a system has been developed and is functioning so that teachers can actively and flexibly use various media equipment and teaching materials to assist children's spontaneous study and learning.

Equipment for an 'Intelligent School'

In Namerikawa Lower Secondary School, there are a number of new pieces of media equipment. Users are expected to use each of them separately as independent tools and, by passing information among them as an interrelated, complementary, unified system as well. To achieve this there must be a teaching and learning and a self study information network, the infrastructure of an 'intelligent school', as well as actual equipment.

In Namerikawa Lower Secondary School, a 10 megabytes high speed information main line is installed throughout the building. All rooms have an outlet to enable direct connection to the main line. There are also two information outlets in classrooms and special subject rooms which function just like a modular jack for telephone. By plugging a computer in to one of these outlets it can be connected to the information network. By using the hub, a number of computers can be connected to the information network, connecting each student's portable computer to the network.

In addition to the traditional role, the library serves as an electronic information library and study centre by providing information booths. In these booths, students use multimedia type computers to obtain information from a file server, and to communicate. By providing a file server and printers corner the library can also function as a media centre.

Installed in the electronic library are encyclopaedias, a Japanese language dictionary, an English language dictionary and others. Anyone can call up these references them from anywhere in the school at any time.

Information equipment installed

The following table shows the main equipment installed at the school. The English room was designed as a subject study room with a computer for each student. The computers are multimedia type and the room can be used as a computer room as well as a language laboratory. In special subject rooms and a student government room, there is one computer installed in each. When needed portable computers are also used in such rooms.


Classroom 20(1)40(2)20(1)
Special Education Room 3(3)1(2)1(1)
Special Rooms
    Computer Room 42(42)1(2)1(1)
    English Room 42(42)1(2)1(1)
    Social Study Room 17(17)4(4)1(1)
    Science Lab. B 12(17)2(2)1(1)
    Music Room A 6(6)2(2)1(1)
    Others 10(1)10(1)10(1)
Library & Inf Booth 12(12)
Teachers' Room 15(15)
Others 93(1)3(1)
Portable Computer 44
Lifelong Study Center 14

Total 2466440
Note: Parentheses ( ) shows the number installed in each room. Twenty-one inch screen display units adaptable for both computer and TV are installed in classrooms. In special subject rooms 40 or 29 inch display units are installed.

As a rule, outputting is done at the printer corner in the media centre using the network. However, when necessary it can be done in rooms with a portable printer. There are ten of them at the school for such use.

There are two science laboratories. In one there is a computer on each laboratory table. In the other, and in the home making room, industrial arts work shop, and regular classrooms, there is only one computer. In such cases, the computer can be used as a stand alone or can be connected to the network and can display information to the whole class. This computer is also used to keep attendance records for each period. Inputting is done by the student on day duty. During recess periods students can use this computer for E mail communication. There are many electronic notice boards in the building that can receive information directly from the network for display.

There are many occasions when computers can be profitably used to collect and process data, to write compositions to assist group study, etc.. For these purposes there are 44 portable computers which can be connected to the network with the hub stored at school.

In the Namerikawa Lower Secondary School, there are different computers installed to meet various needs. For instance, FM-Towns (Fujitsu) are installed in the computer room and English room because of the abundance of available CD teaching materials. For classroom instruction a portable computer DOSV machine (IBM) has been selected. In the music room they have a Macintosh which is good for composing and playing music. In the lifelong study centre there is a high quality Macintosh with high level image processing Desktop Publishing system and music processing.

In the gymnasium and athletic field now under construction, a radio LAN is being installed for collecting and receiving data.

Future use of network

My project team at the University of Tsukuba and a software house have collaborated and developed a school management system for the network: this has subsystems such as student information, schedule, attendance record, payment of fees, etc. Qualified persons can input and output such data. Information such as a students' enrolment list for the new year and students' basic information such as parents' names, present and permanent addresses, are received from the city office through the network.

A mailbox is provided for each of the staff and students. It is possible for them to exchange information within the school. At present CompuServe is used to exchange information, but Internet is expected to be used when it becomes possible.


  1. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (1989). Outline of Education in Japan 1989. Tokyo: The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.


The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (1989). Outline of Education in Japan 1989. Tokyo: The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

Please cite as: Nakayama, K. (1994). Intelligent school: A trial in Japan toward 21st century learning environment technology. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 173-177. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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